On Being Wrong, Part II

Image courtesy graur razvan ionut/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy graur razvan ionut/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Many see being wrong as failure, but I disagree. Being wrong is an opportunity to grow or learn something new about yourself or your business. After reading this book, we got to thinking about how business owners and employees respond and act when they are wrong, because let’s face it, we are all wrong at least some of the time. To quickly recap some points from the book: Being wrong is as essential to life as being right. School and society create a stigma around failure and around being wrong, but Schultz shows how often we’re wrong, how much it feels like being right, and how much that means we need to change our attitude about it.

What to do when you are wrong

Often decisions or actions we’ve made hang over our head like a dark cloud because we don’t know how to handle mistakes. Success sometimes means you have to admit that you are wrong, but our culture does not value mistakes and never teaches us how to be wrong. The first step is to admit you were wrong. When you’ve made a mistake it doesn’t do any good to pretend that you were right. Don’t try to keep it a secret either, because inevitably it will surface. The sooner you bring your issue to light, the sooner you can move on. Be willing to take responsibility for your actions. When you are rigidly unwilling to acknowledge when a mistake has been made or that you were wrong, you look stubborn and unprofessional in the eyes of your team and your customers.

Look critically at your decision. Sometimes we get very attached to the idea of being right. I tell my staff that if you make a mistake, apologize, then make it right and move on. We shouldn’t have the same mistakes over and over again, but we are allowed to make mistakes. But then move on. Don’t let those mistakes hold you back from greatness.

If you have really messed up, the apology is the beginning, not the end. You may need to go further to ensure that people understand this incident will never happen again. And make sure that your apology is heartfelt. I am sure you have heard the famous bedbug letter story, right? This tale dates back to the beginning of the last century.

A guest in a hotel finds himself attacked by bedbugs. He writes an angry letter to the president of the hotel company. Within days, the president sends the guest a heartfelt apology that reads in part, “I can assure you that such an event has never occurred before in our hotel. I promise you it will never happen again.”

Included with the apology is the guest’s original letter. Scrawled across the top is the message, “Send this S.O.B. the bedbug letter.”

Clearly this was not an effective apology. Give some thought to how you are going to handle a situation and make sure the person is satisfied with your apology. It is often better to handle the situation personally.

Sometimes failure is the road to success. If you become so afraid to fail, you may never take a chance in order to succeed. Think about how many failures have lead to great discoveries and success. Successful people tend to have a different view about mistakes than most. Not only are they more tolerant of them, but they often embrace them. Steve Jobs celebrated his mistakes during a commencement speech at Stanford, and J.K. Rowling admitted that she could not have produced the successful Harry Potter series without having hit rock bottom first. You need to rewire yourself to see mistakes as opportunities. Because that is exactly what they are.

Here is something interesting though. Do not over apologize. It seems like I am contradicting myself, but these are two very separate things. If it isn’t your fault, don’t apologize. Don’t apologize for your business decisions when you don’t think they were wrong. Don’t apologize for your pricing. Don’t apologize for your opinions. Don’t apologize for being you. Again, look critically at the situation and ask if an apology is necessary. Often, getting a coach or mentor involved can help determine the right course of action.

Is it possible to embrace our penchant for error? Is there adventure in the margin of error? Schultz says yes.

Make each failure or mistake a learning experience and use the lesson to train your staff. Make sure they understand that even minor mistakes and disappointments can cause major damage to your company’s good name.

“To live a creative life we must first lose the fear of being wrong.”
~ Joseph Chilton Pearce

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